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Sautees and simmers and sweats… oh my!

August 24, 2008

I can’t cook. At all.

It’s not that I haven’t tried, it’s not that I don’t “like” to cook, I simply suck at it. I am a whiz at things like toast, frozen pizzas, Easy-Mac, pretty much anything involving the microwave, but that’s not cooking. That’s heating. Don’t get me wrong- I do love it when I slap a pizza in front of the boys and Ian says “great dinner, Dad”, as though I actually had anything to do with it. But then, this is the same kid that acts like his mom is trying to poison him with the pork chops and broccoli that she made, so that’s not the proper scale to use either way.

I pretty much need a recipe to make ice. (That is an exaggeration, but not all that much of one.) But then, even with a recipe, I’d probably still screw it up. I’ve tried following recipes, but they usually wind up being larger disasters than Britney Spears’ parenting abilities- and that’s saying something. I tried making one of those tollhouse “pan cookies” once… holy crap, did it suck. I picked out the chocolate chips and threw the rest away. Last year I tried my hand at homemade (i.e., not the “blue box”) mac and cheese. All three of us guys tried it and instantly made that face that one makes when one bites into a turd. Or at least, the face I would assume one would make, should one ever bite into a turd. We all three spat it out. It was like eating flavorless gummy bears that you picked up out of the sand. But then, Dawn came home from work that evening and tried it and loved it. Ate the whole thing, as I recall. I had no idea she liked flavorless gummy bears picked up out of the sand. Who knew?

I can do {very} simple things in the kitchen- I can make eggs (fried, scrambled, and the occasional omelet), I can fry up chicken, pork chops, and what not, I make a mean grilled cheese sammitch, your basics. But again, I don’t really consider that “cooking” in the true sense of the word. I’m talking about following a recipe and actually having it become something edible, let alone delicious. If I wanted to waste food, I’d just throw it in the garbage and save the hassle and the clean-up. Why is it I can follow a recipe to the letter, only to have it result in a catastrophe?

What really pisses me off are the people that can take a chicken wing, a lima bean, and a teaspoon of vanilla extract and make the most exquisite four-course meal you’ve ever eaten. Those to whom cooking just comes naturally. I just want to slap the snot out of them. Here I can’t make a damn batch of chocolate chip cookies- something damn near everyone says is “idiotproof” (shut up)- but they can just pull a couple things out of the pantry and call it dinner. And it’s good.

Honestly, for me, I think the big thing is the intimidation factor. There is so much to know. All these techniques (that all seem to be minuscule variations of the same basic functions: chopping, stirring, pouring, etc.). The endless supply of gadgetry and vessels and utensils- many, again, seem to be variations of the same thing: bowl, knife, spoon, etc., but you simply have to have every one of them in your friggin’ kitchen, because you can only cook such-and-such dish in such-and-such pan with such-and-such surface, after all. And then there is how there are so many things for which you have about a 30-second window between raw and ruined. I think that was the deal with my mac & cheese- as I recall, there was a flour-and-milk mixture I was heating that passed its point of… ummmm… well, Alton Brown can describe what I’m talking about.

That little… ahem… booger is another big part of the problem. He and his little gang of accomplices on the Food Network. I love the Food Network- which is odd, since I can’t cook- but those bastards and bastardettes that I love watching lure you in by making you believe you actually can make the dish they are preparing. They get these supposedly “normal” people seemingly portraying characters ranging from “girl next door” (Rachael Ray) to “exotic hottie” (Giada De Laurentiis) to “all-American boy” (Bobby Flay) to “everyone’s drinking buddy/wacky uncle” (Guy Fieri) that are so compelling to watch that you completely forget about the fact that, with the exception of Rachael Ray- if you believe her “Food Network Biography” show- they’re pretty much all classically trained CHEFS. And you’re not. And they actually know what they’re doing. And you don’t. (SIDE NOTE: I have a hard time believing I’m the only person in the world that watches the Food Network AND that can’t cook. At least I friggin’ hope not.)

I would LOVE to learn how to cook, but watching the Food Network and realistically thinking, “I can make that” is a lot like watching an NFL game and thinking, “I could have caught that”. As my Uncle Cal says, “buuuullllsheeee-it”. If you don’t have the training, you simply don’t have the skills, unless you just happen to have a gift. Which I do not.

So I sit and watch the Food Network, drooling over the dishes, sometimes drooling over the chefs, but I no longer think “I wonder if I could make that”. Instead I think “I wish I could make that”. And in case you’re wondering, in no particular order are the shows I watch a lot:

Ace of Cakes. As mentioned in a previous post, I was {probably way too} impressed with the job I did decorating Ian’s birthday cake last week. It’ll likely start me thinking I could possibly have a future in cake decorating, until such time as reality kicks me in the eye orbit with its steel-toed boot. That notwithstanding, I’ve always liked this show. Duff and his gang of artsy fartsy types are absolute geniuses at what they do.

Good Eats. The reasons I like this show are the very reasons I despise it. Alton Brown knows all these science-y things about foods and their chemical compositions and breakdowns and what not, and takes the time to explain it. On the other hand, he takes the time to explain all this science stuff. Just cook the damn food. I like Alton Brown because he doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously. His show has all these goofy little sketches and characters and what not. Yet it bugs the hell out of me that Alton is such a goofball. Honestly, Alton Brown reminds me of the Phil Hartman character from Saturday Night Live in the 90s, the Anal Retentive Chef. Alton’s not quite as effeminate as the A.R.C. seemed to be, but certainly as anal. It’s still a good show. There- are you happy, now, Honey? I admitted it. (Dawn loves her some Alton Brown.)

Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. A little of Guy Fieri can go a long way sometimes, but he is pretty entertaining to watch. He goes all across the country finding little hole-in-the-wall mom & pop places that have the best food, as they usually do. As I’m sure many of you know, it brought him here to Springfield last fall to Charlie Parker’s, one of my favorite places. But there are places featured on his show that I absolutely will visit if I ever wind up in their area.

Iron Chef America. Everyone has their opinions, but I think the American version is SO much better than the original Japanese series, and I hate to say it, but I think the only reason is because the dubbed-in voices of the Japanese version bugged me. Plus, the American version seems to be far more laid back (dare I say, “fun”). It’s really quite interesting to see what these folks do with the “secret” ingredient (wink wink) in an hour’s time. Plus, Cat Cora is HOTTTTTTTTT. I like all the Iron Chefs (although it has taken me a while to warm up to the newest, Michael Symon), but I pay extra attention when Cat Cora is the Iron Chef for the night. And I like Mario Batali and Masaharu Morimoto for a couple reasons, not the least of which being because they’re… um… fat. Skinny cooks are a little like shop teachers that are missing fingers- they can’t be too good at it, can they?! But Cat Cora’s exempt from that rule because she’s hot. (Oh lighten up- NONE of you have ever liked someone based on their attractiveness?! Oh, right. I’M the only shallow one in the world.) It’s a good show, regardless of who is the Iron Chef is.

There are others I watch somewhat regularly (Throwdown with Bobby Flay, Dinner: Impossible, and yes, Rachael Ray’s 42 different shows, among others), but the ones listed above I try to catch all the time. Once I admit to myself that I will never be able to do it, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it that much more. In the mean time, my boys continue to eat Butch’s pizzas and frozen beef tip dinners with egg noodles. And they actually still believe I can cook.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2008 3:33 pm

    I must say that I agree with all these shows! I think Ace of Cakes is my favorite though.

  2. Johann permalink
    August 28, 2008 7:39 am

    I know. He’s awesome.

  3. Aunt Kathy permalink
    August 31, 2008 4:30 pm

    Ace of Cakes – YEAH! Love Duff &’s just fascinating & amazing what they can do. I watch a lot of Food Network. They need a show on menus for 8+, cooking prep for a week – wait! this sounds like a professional chef’s job!!

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